News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

CDMA to GSM migration: another one jumps ship in Africa

Reports of the death of CDMA have been greatly exaggerated. That has been the theme of of few articles I've posted here. In March I blogged on claims made about the standard being in rude health in Nigeria. A month earlier, I was writing about operators betting on CDMA in India. That article, however, did report on the seemingly unstoppable rise of the GSM family and the constantly eroded global market share of CDMA. Contributing to this trend is the phenomenon of former CDMA operators migrating to the more successful technology. An example of this is currently underway in Africa.

I learned via Telegeography yesterday that Rwandan mobile operator Rwandatel is continuing to switch users from CDMA mobile phones to 3G-enabled GSM handsets.

According to the article, which quotes RwandaTel CEO Patrick Kariningufu, the MNO is handing out new GSM handsets to an estimated 20,000 subscribers mainly located in rural areas. The move is said to be part of the company's response to increased competition.

The country's mobile market is currently split two ways - but the slices are very differently sized. MTN's Rwanda outpost has 82.61% of the country's subscriptions according to WCIS. Until late last year, Rwandatel, as a purely CDMA operator, was doing OK in terms of slowly chipping away at MTN's dominant position. The decision to migrate to GSM/W-CDMA was made some time ago, however. A Global Mobile Daily note of December 5th indicates that while the new network was launched around that time, the operator, a unit of Libya's Lap Green, had hoped to make the move to GSM earlier last year but was prevented from doing so by equipment shipping delays caused by the post-election violence in Kenya.

Both cellcos will be preparing for the impact of a new challenge to the status quo. This comes in the form of a soon-to-be-launched Tigo-branded MNO, the newest part of the Millicom International Cellular empire.

In November, GMD reported that Millicom had been awarded Rwanda's third mobile operating license by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency, which reportedly rejected competing bids from Zain and Telecel Globe, a company owned by Orascom Telecom. Millcom's new operation will offer mobile and fixed-line services.

Market-watchers will be interested to see if Rwandatel's migration to GSM will be enough for the operator to compete effectively vs. this new entrant and the well-established MTN operation.

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